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What to wear on the hills this winter

“There is no such thing as bad weather,

just unsuitable clothing”

- Alfred Wainwright, Legend.

This is not a fashion guide. Anyone that knows me will tell you I’m as fashionable as a pair of crocks in a cocktail bar (Side note, I do NOT own a pair of crocks, despite my lack of fashion sense, I am still an adult, just). This is a short guide to help you select the right clothing for a walk in the mountains this winter. Don’t panic you won't need to list a kidney on e-bay to get kitted out for a walk this winter. I’m tighter than an Eskimo’s pants and hate to waste money on gimmicks and gadgets. Let's keep it simple and practical.

Disclaimer: For me, a trip to the hills isn’t just about taking in the sights and relaxing in mother nature. I like to plan a route that will push me physically. I'll add checkpoints that take me off the beaten path and set myself time hacks that push me to cover ground at pace. It's not everyone's outlook on being in the hills, but it's mine so the following advice is based on physically challenging yourself to go to cool places and see cool things.

Right let's get into it, first things first, what on earth are you going to wear to the party?

  1. HatWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - That covers your ears.
  2. GlovesWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - With fingers, you're not going to a German fetish bar!
  3. BuffWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - Merino wool. I know what I just wrote about spending cash, I don’t care, some corners should never be cut.
  4. Base LayerWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - Long sleeve thin jumper worn underneath everything. They are like pyjamas for the outdoors.
  5. Mid LayerWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - This is outdoor talk for a t-shirt. Honestly colour doesn’t matter, but red is fastest.
  6. An Insulating LayerWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - Translates to fleeces, jumper, hoodie whatever as long as it has a full-length zip.
  7. ShellWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - Coat. With a hood. Waterproof. Taped Seams. This is very important.
  8. Outdoor TrousersWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - A decent fitting windproof, quick-wicking trouser. Denim is not quick wicking; joggers are not windproof.
  9. Walking SocksWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - Thick socks.
  10. BootsWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 - I don’t care how strong your ankles are or how much running barefoot you do you need to be in boots, no arguing.
  11. PantsWhat to wear on the hills this winter 1 are optional but advised for reasons that will become apparent later on.

The only item here you need to spend cash on is your shell/waterproof. That being said there are a few things you should consider when kitting yourself out for a winter trip to the hills. Gore-Tex or other similar technologies are great but not essential. Merino wool is an incredible natural material, but not essential. Don’t be fooled by brand power and fancy adverts, understand the technology involved and then replicate it the best you can with the budget you have. Ultimately your fitness is what counts.

Your “shell” should be fully water and windproof with a hood large enough to fit a warm hat underneath. We are bombarded with plush goose-filled down jackets, battery-powered heated coats, thermal base layers but honestly all these items, as nice as they are, don’t make that bigger difference when you’re out on the hill. As long as you have waxed seams and at least a 5,000mm rating you should be good for most UK conditions.

Hang on, numbers? WTF? - Don’t panic there is an easy to follow section here to help you understand how to rate a jacket. As this is the most expensive item on the list I would recommend having a read. They have a great breakdown of all nerdy numbers and techy jargon to help you spend the right amount of cash on your coat. Do not rely on shop attendants to give you accurate advice. They are humans, and that means most of them are dim-witted. Do you own research!

As for the Boots, probably the second most expensive item on the list, it's important to remember a few things. Full ankle support is a must and not just to help protect your ankles. The extra height on the boot will allow you to get your laces nice and tight up your shin. This can help prevent your toes bashing into the end of your boot on the downhill sections; hammer toe is a real demon that will haunt you if you are not careful. Also, consider going up a half size to allow for big socks and for your feet to swell a little as the day progresses.

Let’s not get bogged down in kit selection or I’ll be typing forever. It’s all relative to your budget and adventure, I want to focus on the how and the why and not the what.

If you are out in the winter then you will want to be on the move to stay warm, a well thought out layering system is all you need.

Be bold start cold!

Set off with your base layer, t-shirt and waterproof. Stash your jumper, insulating layer, in your bag to avoid that early stop 15mins into your walk to delayer.

What to wear on the hills this winter 23

Ditching the jumper works for you two-fold. You are prepped in case of any sudden downpour, and you can very easily regulate your temperature by simply zipping and unzipping your jacket. Having your pockets handy is also a benefit. Being able to store your hat and gloves means you can easily add and remove layers to your extremities without having to stop and reach into your bag. If you are still overheating then vent those pants! Drop that fly and let the cool mountain air blow around your basement dude. Feels nice! And this is why pants are recommended.

In all seriousness, there are a lot of blood vessels that run very close the surface of the skin in that region of the human body so it makes sense. Same goes for your neck and wrists. Sliding your buff from around your neck and on to the top of your head will cool you down, so will rolling up your sleeves to expose your wrists. The same cannot be said for your head; you do NOT lose 75% of your body heat from your head, it's bullshit so stop contributing to fake news, you nincompoop!

All these little tips help to regulate your temperature and mean you can continue to cover ground without stopping and starting every time the gradient of the hill changes, you suddenly find yourself in a wind tunnel or the could come in and surrounds you like a damp towel. Just like any other machine the human body requires temperature control to operate efficiently. A good understanding of the human body and the basic rules of thermal dynamics is all you need. Survival is what you know, not how much your jacket cost.

What to wear on the hills this winter 25

Your insulating layer, currently stashed in your bag, can be introduced if movement slows down for any reason or, simply because of its F’in cold up top. Again that full-length zip allows you to control how much cold air hits your chest, keeping you in complete control of your temperature.

It's that easy! It may all seem very obvious, but you would be surprised how many people I have seen carrying an unnecessary amount of extra clothing. There is a decent argument to include waterproof trousers and even gators here but not one I’m going to entertain. You want them on the list, then write your own damn list 🙂 I think they fall better into the kit category and would be selected for specific conditions you would expect to encounter on a particular adventure. As far as a basic wardrobe selection goes, that’s your lot. Simple.

Patience - Logic - Strength

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